The WI: A Centennial History
Published by Amberley Publishing on March 15, 2015
Genres: Cultural, Social
The Women’s Institute is the story of women helping women. The WI is a hybrid of a Canadian organization conceived by Adelaide Hoodless and an urbane British group founded by suffragist, Mrs. Nora Wynford Phillips. Both groups wanted to help women improve themselves and the lives of their families. Mrs. Hoodless was inspired by the death of her young son due to drinking milk improperly stored in the summer.
Initially, rural women were not interested as they felt their sons and husbands would belittle them. Things changed in 1915 as thousands of men went to war and women were forced to take on their work. Secretary of the British Agricultural Organization Society John Nugent Harris heard Mrs. Madge Watt, a Canadian who relocated to England, speak at an agricultural meeting where she proposed that a women’s Institute modeled on the Canadian one be started in Britain. Watt was employed by the Agricultural Society to start branches through out the country. The national association was created in 1918.
Many early members of the national Women’s Institute were active in the suffrage movement. The local groups were focused on improving women’s lives in practical domestic ways. In the public’s mind the WI was linked to the Suffragists.
The WI was not government funded. It was non-political, non-denominational and pacifist. During WW2, the Institute was invaluable in communicating within the civilian population, establishing once again produce markets for the home front population, and troop support.
After WW2 the WI groups were helpful in gathering data about the rural areas for the government and worked hard to lobby for improvements in living conditions, such as electricity and running water. Today the Women’s Institute continues to help ease the isolation of rural areas.
Reviewed by Anne Merritt